The Winnipeg Jets entered the NHL in 1979-80 after spending their first seven seasons of existence in the World Hockey Association (WHA) beginning in 1972. The franchise was well known since it lured Bobby Hull from the NHL at $1 million a season and featured one of the best lines anywhere in the world when the Golden Jet skated alongside Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg of Sweden. The Jets lasted 17 seasons in Winnipeg before moving down to the desert and becoming the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996-97.
Winnipeg fans were ecstatic when the NHL agreed to return to the city in 2011-12 though when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated there after joining the league as an expansion franchise in 1999-2000. And yes, they became the second franchise to be known as the Winnipeg Jets. So, to be clear, the original Jets franchise is still playing in Arizona as the Coyotes and the current Jets franchise is a totally different one from the original Jets. No matter which team is which though, we’re going to re-draft all first round picks made by the two NHL teams that have shared the Winnipeg Jets name.
Winnipeg drafted some fine players over the years with a couple of them ending up in the Hall of Fame and winning numerous trophies between them. However, like all teams, when we look back we find they could have done better if they were equipped with a crystal ball or have the info we know now. This list shows the 24 players the Jets did draft and the players they could or should have chosen. Winnipeg didn’t have a first round pick in 1984 and 1994 as they traded them away.
24 Mark Messier (1979)
Original Pick: Jimmy Mann
The Jets didn’t make a good impression with their first ever draft pick as it was wasted on tough guy Jimmy Mann. Winnipeg picked 19th and missed out on several stars who were already taken including Rob Ramage, Mike Gartner, Rick Vaive, Ray Bourque and Paul Reinhart. But why on earth did they take Mann when there were numerous budding stars available including Michel Goulet, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson, Dale Hunter, Neal Broten, John Ogrodnick, Dave Christian, Anton Stastny, Mike Foligno, Mats Naslund, Pelle Lindbergh and many more. It was a very strong draft and Winnipeg blew it. However, they weren’t the only team to do so as Hall of Famer Mark Messier went 48th overall to Edmonton. Messier is the NHL’s third-all-time leading scorer while Mann chipped in with 30 points and 895 penalty minutes.
23 Paul Coffey (1980)
Original Pick: Dave Babych
Winnipeg chose second in 1980 and took a good defenceman in Dave Babych, who played close to 1200 NHL games and racked up 723 points. Doug Wickenheiser was a mistake at number one when Montreal took him and looking back Winnipeg could have had their pick of Jari Kurri, Denis Savard, Hakan Loob, Bernie Nicholls, Larry Murphy, Brent Sutter and Steve Larmer as well as goaltenders Don Beaupre, Andy Moog and Kelly Hrudey. But the prize catch of the draft went to Edmonton for the second year in a row when they took Paul Coffey. The Hall of Famer went on to become the second-highest scoring defenceman in NHL history with 1531 points. Babych was the Jets’ best defenceman for just over five seasons before they made the mistake of trading him to Hartford for Ray Neufeld.
22 Ron Francis (1981)
Original Pick: Dale Hawerchuk
The Jets had the top pick in 1981 and used it on centre Dale Hawerchuk. This was a good choice at the time as he was rookie of the year in 1981-82. Hawerchuk was a star with 1,409 points in almost 1200 games and is deservedly in the Hall of Fame. He helped Winnipeg make the playoffs and improve by 48 points in his first season. He was also the youngest ever player at the time to record 100 points, but was traded to Buffalo during the 1990 draft. The Jets could have taken Hall of Famers Grant Fuhr, Al MacInnis or Chris Chelios, but the best available player was arguably centre Ron Francis who was chosen fourth by Hartford. Francis played the third-most games in NHL history (1731) and is second all time in assists with 1,249.
21 Doug Gilmour (1982)
Original Pick: Jim Kyte
With Hawerchuk’s help, Winnipeg improved and drafted 12th and made a mistake by taking defenceman Jim Kyte. He was drafted for his toughness rather than skills and was gone after six seasons and just 36 points. Kyte, who up to now has been the only legally deaf player in the NHL, ended up playing close to 600 games with 66 points and 1,342 penalty minutes. The Bruins didn’t fare much better as they took defenceman Gord Kluzak first overall. The Jets could have taken Pat Verbeek, Tomas Sandstrom, Kevin Dineen, power play specialist Dave Andreychuk or goaltender Ron Hextall. The best choice would have been centre Doug Gilmour though, as his 1,414 points led all players in the draft. The Hall of Famer Gilmour was missed by just about everyone as he went 134th to St. Louis.
20 Dominik Hasek (1983)
Original Pick: Andrew McBain
Minnesota made history in 1983 when Brian Lawton was the first American taken with a number one pick. The Jets had the eighth pick and didn’t fare much better with winger Andrew McBain. He wasn’t bad at about .50 points per contest over a 608-game career, but was gone after his sixth and best season in Winnipeg when he scored 37 goals in 1988-89. Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine, Tom Barrasso, John MacLean and Russ Courtnall were already gone. But the Jets could have taken any of Claude Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Dave Gagner, Esa Tikkanen, Cam Neely and Tick Tocchet. However, the best player available turned out to be Hall of Fame and multiple-trophy winner goalie Dominik Hasek. He went 199th out of 242 players when Chicago took him in the 10th round.
19 Rick Tocchet (1983)
Original Pick: Bobby Dollas
The Jets had a second pick in the first round back in 1983 and took big defenceman Bobby Dollas 14th. He’d go on to play 646 NHL games up until 2000-01 with 138 points. Dollas played just 55 games with Winnipeg though and was dealt to the Quebec Nordiques in 1987-88. He played several years in the minors and moved on to seven other NHL teams after Quebec. The Jets will be taking winger Rick Tocchet in the re-draft after he went 121st to Philadelphia originally. Tocchet was a tough as they come and also had a fine scoring touch with 440 goals and 952 points in 1,144 games and another 112 points in 145 postseason outings. He’s the third-highest scorer from the draft and he achieved it while serving 2,972 penalty minutes.
18 Joe Nieuwendyk (1985)
Original Pick: Ryan Stewart
Wendel Clark went first to Toronto and Winnipeg wasted the 18th pick on centre Ryan Stewart out of Kamloops. Stewart went on to play just three NHL games in 1985-86. He was a decent scorer in junior, but ended up a minor leaguer who eventually played in Britain. When the Jets picked they already missed out on Craig Simpson, Ulf Dahlen and Derek King in a relatively weak draft. There were still some good players available though such as Igor Larionov, Benoit Hogue, Nelson Emerson, Randy Burridge and Steve Chiasson along with goalies Mike Richter, Bill Ranford and Sean Burke. The best of the bunch though hands-down was centre Joe Nieuwendyk who was taken 27th by Calgary. The Hall of Famer led the draft class with 1126 points, which was 471 points more than Dahlen who ranks second.
17 Scott Young (1986)
Original Pick: Pat Elynuik
Detroit took Joe Murphy first and Winnipeg chose eighth. They missed out on Jimmy Carson, Zarley Zalapski and Vincent Damphousse before taking winger Pat Elynuik from Prince Albert. He went on to play 506 NHL games with 342 points, but stayed in Winnipeg just until 1992 when he ended up in Washington. Elyniuk was a good player, but not worthy of the eighth pick. This is especially true considering that Craig Janney, Adam Graves, Rob Brown, Jyrki Lumme and Darren Turcotte were still available. This was a weak draft year though at just about every position. A better choice would have been underrated American winger Scott Young who went 11th to Hartford. He played close to 1200 NHL games with several teams and was the third leading scorer of the draft with 756 points.
16 Theoren Fleury (1987)
Original Pick: Bryan Marchment
Buffalo chose Pierre Turgeon first and Winnipeg waited to pick 16th. They missed out on Brendan Shanahan, Glen Wesley and Joe Sakic. They took defenceman Bryan Marchment who would be one of the NHL’s most hated players due to his tactics. Marchment was known as a hard hitter, but he was just as likely to take out your knees then hit you cleanly. Still, he played over 900 games and racked up 2,307 penalty minutes. He probably would have reached 1,000 games if it wasn’t for his numerous suspensions. Marchment lasted 37 games in Winnipeg before being traded to Chicago. Theoren Fleury could have been a Jet as he went 166th to Calgary. He scored 1,088 points in 1,084 games to rank fourth in the draft and at 5-foot-6 was a sparkplug wherever he went.
15 Teemu Selanne (1988)
Original Pick: Teemu Selanne
The Jets picked 10th, but arguably got the best player in winger Teemu Selanne while Minnesota took Mike Modano first. Selanne was something special though. The Finnish Flash may have played 200 less career games and scored 75 fewer points than Mark Recchi, the leading scorer of the draft, but scored over 100 more goals and was certainly more exciting to watch. Selanne scored an NHL record 76 goals and 56 assists in his Calder-winning rookie season of 1992-93. He played just 231 games in the Peg though with 306 points when the Jets sent him to Anaheim in a brutal trade. Selanne is the highest-scoring Finnish player in NHL history and holds numerous records for the Jets/Coyotes and Anaheim franchises. He’ll surely end up in the Hall of Fame with his 1,457 points in 1,451 games..
14 Nicklas Lidstrom (1989)
Original Pick: Stu Barnes
Centre Stu Barnes wasn’t a bad pick for Winnipeg in 1989 when he was taken fourth after Mats Sundin went first to Quebec, but there would be some other Hall of Famers available. Barnes hung around for 1,136 NHL games and chipped in with a respectable 597 points. He played just 102 games with the Jets though. Winnipeg could have taken Sergei Fedorov, Bill Guerin, Pavel Bure, Bobby Holik, or Robert Reichel. But since they drafted the high-scoring Selanne the year before they should have taken Hall of Fame defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom who went 53rd to Detroit. Lidstrom would play 20 seasons, win seven Norris Trophies as well as a Conn Smythe and four Stanley Cups. The former Red Wings captain will go down in history as one of the best defencemen ever.
13 Martin Brodeur (1990)
Original Pick: Keith Tkachuk
Once again the Jets took a pretty good player when they chose powerful American centre Keith Tkachuk with the 19th pick. In fact, he’d become the second-highest scorer in the draft with 1,065 points, behind the fifth pick Jaromir Jagr. The top pick wasn’t too shabby that year either as Quebec took rugged power forward Owen Nolan. New Jersey drafted right after Winnipeg though and they selected one of the best goaltenders of all time in Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. He’d end up with the most wins in NHL history with 695, the most losses, the most shutouts and several Vezina and Jennings Trophies not to mention three Stanley Cups and a couple of Olympic gold medals. Tkachuk spent his first 10 seasons with the Jets organization and another nine seasons with St. Louis.
12 Peter Forsberg (1991)
Original Pick: Aaron Ward
The 1991 draft was controversial as top pick Eric Lindros refused to play with Quebec, the team that drafted him. Winnipeg chose fifth and took defenceman Aaron Ward, which was another poor choice considering who was available. Ward wouldn’t play single game with Winnipeg though as he was traded to Detroit for Paul Yserbaert in 1993. Ward played with several teams in his 13-year career and won three Stanley Cups. Winnipeg could have taken Alexei Kovalev, Markus Naslund, Ray Whitney, Ziggy Palffy or goalie Chris Osgood, but the most dynamic player available was Peter Forsberg, who went sixth to Philadelphia. The Swedish Hall of Fame centre would score 885 points in 708 games and added another 171 in 151 postseason outings. Ironically, he ended up being traded to Quebec in the deal which took Lindros to Philly.
11 Martin Straka (1992)
Original Pick: Sergei Bautin
This was a pretty weak draft and defenceman Roman Hamrlik went first overall to Tampa. Winnipeg had to hang around until being called to the podium with the 17th pick. They proceeded to waste it by taking Belarusian defenceman Sergei Bautin from Moscow Dynamo. He played just 130 times with Winnipeg before being traded to Detroit. He ended up in the minors and back in Europe soon after. Since Sergei Gonchar, Alexei Yashin and Cory Stillman were all gone before Winnipeg drafted, they should have taken Czech centre Martin Straka who went 19th to Pittsburgh. Straka was a good two-way forward who played close to 1,000 NHL games and was the fourth-highest scorer from the draft with 717 points. The Jets made up for taking Bautin though when they landed goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with the 204th pick.
10 Saku Koivu (1993)
Original Pick: Mats Lindgren
Alexandre Daigle went first to Ottawa in 1993 and is considered by many to be one of the worst ever first overall picks. Winnipeg didn’t draft until 15th which meant they missed out on Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Rob Niedermayer, Victor Kozlov and Jason Arnott. The Jets settled on Swedish centre Mats Lindgren. However, the injury-prone Lindgren played just 387 NHL games and none of them with Winnipeg. He was traded to Edmonton along with Boris Mironov and the Jets’ first and fourth-round picks in 1994 for Dave Manson and a sixth rounder in a bad deal even though 1994 was a weak draft. Winnipeg should have taken Finnish centre Saku Koivu, who went 21st to Montreal, would be the third-highest scorer of the draft with 832 points and captain of the Habs.
9 Jarome Iginla (1995)
Original Pick: Shane Doan
Ottawa chose first and took defenceman Bryan Berard while Winnipeg took winger Shane Doan seventh. This was another relatively weak draft and Doan was a great choice, especially since he’s still playing with the franchise out in Arizona. However, if they could do it all over again Winnipeg should have taken another forward who’s still playing in Jarome Iginla, who went 11th to Dallas. Iginla leads Doan in all major offensive categories and has slightly better leadership skills and toughness. Iginla has never been afraid to drop the gloves and when you add in more than 600 goals and assists each he should be a Hall of Famer. Dallas made a mistake by trading Iginla to Calgary before his NHL debut and he went on to win an Art Ross, Pearson and two Rocket Richard Trophies.
8 Mark Scheifele (2011)
Original Pick: Mark Scheifele
By the time the Atlanta Thrashers resurfaced in Winnipeg the NHL was a 30-team league. Their first draft as the new Jets came in 2011 when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went first to Edmonton. Winnipeg took forward Mark Scheifele seventh and I think he’ll turn out to be the right choice even though players to go after him were Dougie Hamilton, Rickard Rakell, Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau and goalie John Gibson. Although most top players from the draft have played more games than Scheifele, he’s currently number four on the draft class scoring list. It might have taken him a little while to get going, but Scheifele is now one of the league’s best young players at the age of 23 and improving with each week. He was also scoring at a point-per-game pace this season after 48 contests.
7 Filip Forsberg (2012)
Original Pick: Jacob Trouba
Edmonton chose first again and might as well have traded the pick as they chose underachieving Russian forward Nail Yakupov. The Jets chose ninth and took defenceman Jacob Trouba. He’s a pretty good defenceman, but let’s not forget Trouba tried to force the Jets to trade him earlier in the 2016-17 season, but ended up signing a new deal. The Jets should have taken Filip Forsberg as he went to Washington with the 11th pick. The Capitals ended up wasting it though as they traded the talented Swedish centre to Nashville for Martin Erat and Michael Latta in a terrible deal in April of 2013. Forsberg is currently second in scoring from the draft year with seasons of 26 and 33 goals behind him. He’s only 22 and has a great future ahead of him.
6 Alexander Wennberg (2013)
Original Pick: Josh Morrissey
Colorado kicked off the draft by taking centre Nathan MacKinnon and there aren’t many fans who’d argue with that. Jets’ fans probably wish their team had taken somebody else rather than defenceman Josh Morrissey with the 13th pick though. Morrissey’s a regular with Winnipeg this season after spending last year with Manitoba in the AHL. There’s nothing wrong with Morrissey as a player, but a better choice would have been Swedish centre Alexander Wennberg who went to Columbus with the 14th pick. Wennberg has helped the Blue Jackets become one of the league’s best teams this season and had 100 points after his first 185 NHL games. He’s not a big goalscorer, but he’s a fine playmaker and the 22-year-old Wennberg was fourth the NHL in assists at the All-Star break.
5 Nikolaj Ehlers (2014)
Original Pick: Nikolaj Ehlers
Defenceman Aaron Ekblad went to Florida first overall in an arguably weak draft. The Jets picked ninth and took versatile winger Nikolaj Ehlers from Denmark. He’s already the fifth-leading scorer out of 12 Danish players to make it to the NHL and tops in goals, assists and points per game so far. Ehlers played youth hockey in Switzerland and then joined Halifax of the Quebec junior league and scored over 100 points in each of his two seasons there. Dylan Larkin and David Pastrnak were still available when Winnipeg drafted him, but the Jets took the right guy in Ehlers. He had 38 points as a rookie and 44 at this year’s All-Star break. Ehlers will soon turn 21 and he’s the top point-per-game player from the draft, a definite keeper.
4 Sebastian Aho (2015)
Original Pick: Kyle Connor
The big prize in 2015 was Connor McDavid and who else but Edmonton won the lottery to select him first. Winnipeg didn’t pick until 17th and they chose American winger Kyle Connor. Considering players such as Jack Eichel, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski, and Mikko Rantanen were already taken, Connor’s not a bad choice. He started the season in Winnipeg, but was sent to the AHL after four points in 19 games. Finnish winger Sebastian Aho, who went 35th to Carolina, seems to be a better player though. Aho played 45 games and led his Finnish elite team in goals and points last year with 20 and 45 respectively. He’s only 5-foot-10, but skilful and has handled the NHL well as a rookie with 12 goals and 26 points at the All-Star break.
3 Jack Roslovic (2015)
Original Pick: Jack Roslovic
American centre Jack Roslovic of the U.S. National Development Team was taken with the 25th overall pick as the Jets’ second first rounder in 2015. He then spent a year at Miami University in Ohio. The 6-foot-1 native of Columbus is having a decent year down in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose with 40 points after 56 games and is adapting quite well to the professional game. The Jets could have had a few players who have broken into the NHL already, such as defenceman Brandon Carlo with Boston, centre Denis Malgin with Florida, defenceman Markus Nutivaara with Columbus and left-winger Anthony Beauvillier of the New York Islanders. Roslovic, who won a gold medal at the World Juniors this year, looks like he’ll have a solid NHL career and appears to have been a solid pick.
2 Patrik Laine (2016)
Original Pick: Patrik Laine
Toronto took centre Auston Matthews first overall and Winnipeg took high-scoring Finnish winger Patrik Laine second. The debate over who got best player will rage on for years. Right now it’s neck and neck as the two rookies were just about even heading down the stretch of the season when it came to goals and points. However, Laine had played several games fewer due to a concussion during the season. In the long run, the two players’ health may very well end up deciding which team took the best player in the draft. Laine offers pure excitement with a hell of a shot, which was recorded at over 101 mph, and gets it away like Mike Bossy did. The Jets could have taken anybody but Matthews and definitely got the best available and a franchise player in Laine.
1 Sam Steel (2016)
Original Pick: Logan Stanley
Winnipeg went for size with their second first-round pick in 2015 with defenceman Logan Stanley from the Windsor Spitfires with the 18th pick. Stanley stands 6-feet-7-inches tall and weighs 230 lbs. He’s a stay-at-home blueliner who isn’t naturally gifted when it comes to the offensive side of the game. Unfortunately, he underwent knee surgery this season and it’s unclear how it will affect his game. The Jets could have had 6-foot centre Sam Steel, who went 30th to Anaheim from the Regina Pats. Steel had 124 points in 133 games the past two seasons and added 16 points in 12 playoff games last year. He broke out this campaign with 50 goals and 131 points in 66 games to finish as the league’s scoring champ, a point ahead of teammate Adam Brooks.